DTS alumnus, Rob Marcello (Th.M., 2011), and student, Nika Spaulding, share their reflections of the conversation and issues discussed at the recent Wallace-Ehrman debate.
On October 1, McFarlin Auditorium, on the Southern Methodist University campus, hosted one of the largest debates of its kind in history. The majestic building, with its stately columns reminiscent of Grecian architecture, and nearly 1600 attendees—among them scholars, Christians, seekers, atheists, Muslims, and Mormons—suggested the magnitude of the subject matter: the reliability of the text of the New Testament. Expectations soared for the two scholars debating—Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, and Dr. Bart D. Ehrman, James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Neither would disappoint.
The moderator, Dr. Mark Chancey, a former student of Ehrman, introduced both speakers fairly, fielded questions, and kept the audience on track. He was quite neutral as his reputation had suggested he would be.
Dr. Ehrman claimed that the text of the New Testament was corrupted beyond repair. His main argument stemmed from the absence of New Testament manuscripts from the first 100 years after it was composed. This “silence” he argues could have resulted in chaos from the scribes; thus, it follows that the text is no longer trustworthy.
Conversely, Dr. Wallace presented much evidence that affirms the reliability of the text, including the importance of documents from the first-century. In comparing the New Testament manuscripts to that of the best Greco-Roman authors, the New Testament manuscripts far exceed this literature in quality and quantity. Based on the grounds of textual reliability the text of the New Testament can be considered trustworthy.
Ehrman demanded absolute proof that the New Testament had not been corrupted, as though such proof was the standard of certainty for all other things. But this was making unrealistic demands on the text; demanding absolute certainty for historical materials. Ehrman’s old fundamentalism had hardly changed, only his loyalties had.
In Wallace’s final point he argued that every one of Ehrman’s books on the New Testament presupposes that he knows what the original text said—even in his latest book, Forged, written earlier this year. Wallace contended that Ehrman’s belief that Paul did not write the Pastorals Epistles depends on Ehrman knowing which Pauline letters are “authentic” and how the vocabulary of the Pastorals differs from these letters. Ehrman never could have written that book unless he knew, almost in every detail, what the original text of Paul’s letters said.
Between the scholarly dialogue and humorous rhetoric of the two men, attendees enjoyed an evening focused on the significance of the subject. Ultimately, the text of the New Testament was well defended.
Dr. Wallace’s newest book, Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament: Manuscript, Patristic, and Apocryphal Evidence (Kregel), was also announced at the debate. Dr. Wallace is the book's editor and a contributor, along with five of his former interns. It critiques Ehrman’s Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.
Behind the scenes, hundreds of people were praying for the two men. Wallace noted many times since the debate that he sensed a supernatural calm as he got down on his knees in the dressing room twenty minutes before the debate and sought the Lord’s help in earnest. He was totally at peace going into the debate.
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